Confessions of a Draft-a-holic, or How I Wrote 50K Words in One Month

Last month I participated in NaNoWriMo–National Novel Writing Month. The goal was to write a 50K novel during that time. Given that my previous two novels took several years each to complete, I was skeptical about my ability to succeed. But since this has been my year to do a wide variety of amazing things, I took the plunge.

One challenge to writing quickly is I’m an inveterate editor. I have a difficult time not editing myself as I create. Granted, it saves time on the second draft stage, but it does tend to slow the initial draft down.

A greater challenge has been figuring out my plot. I wrote Second Death and The Source of Lightning by writing until I reached a point where I wasn’t happy with where the plot was going, then starting a new draft. Second Death went through twelve drafts, all going in the same basic direction, and another ten drafts when I changed the course of where I thought it should go. I just don’t have enough time to spend that long in the drafting process. My attempts at outlining, though, didn’t go too well. The process seemed to take all the fun and interest out of the novel.

Just as NaNoWriMo was beginning, though, I found Larry Brooks’ very helpful NaNoWriMo-themed posts on story engineering. I started with answering his story questions for my incipient novel, but the most useful revelation was the beat sheet. I planned out the story, indicating in a couple of sentences what was supposed to happen in each chapter. He includes information on where (and I do mean “where” in a word count sense) the main plot points should occur. That bit of information was seriously helpful when racing through the month, and I think will become even more useful at a slightly more sedate pace.

And then, a shot rang out! Well, not, y’know, an actual shot, but I had my own personal drama. I realized although my word count had advanced to a pleasing number, I wasn’t anywhere near that point in the narrative. I was overwriting the chapters, making them roughly 1,300 words rather than about 800. I had to throttle back, because I was determined to write a coherent first draft of 50,000 words. I didn’t want to finish up the word count, but not the story. The later chapters ended up somewhat abbreviated, but I got through it to “The End,” those sacred words.

I bought and devoured Larry Brooks’ book, Story Engineering. I highly recommend it. Rather than taking away the urgency to tell the story, outlining it freed me up to concentrate more closely on “story” without fussing about “plot.” That structure was already in place.

Fifty thousand words, however, do not make a novel, in my opinion, so now I’m filling in chapters to bring the count up to roughly 80,000. The additional chapters are necessary to flesh out the story and make it more compelling. I’m doing that by adding chapters to my initial beat sheet/outline, inserting them in the appropriate places, and then writing those chapters.

I’ll definitely participate in National Novel Writing Month again next year, but I’ll use the techniques I learned the year around. I’m anxious to complete Revival and tell Elijah Grayson’s story to a larger audience than just me and the NaNo validator.

Have you had similar experiences with NaNoWriMo? Or changed your writing process drastically? Share in the comments below.

Overflowing with Opportunites

Indie publishing is all about freedom–it’s a great theme today of all days. I write this while sitting at the Toyota dealership on Veterans Day, getting my car serviced and drinking hot chocolate brewed in a Tassano machine. Do you ever get freaked out, though, by freedom?

The reason I’m thinking about this is that my latest book, The Source of Lightning, will be available for sale in e-book form any minute now (well, as soon as the vetting gods have their way with it) and in print sometime this month. That’s so exciting to me, but that means I’m back on the marketing trail once more.

My first venture into marketing in this brave new indie world was with my first book, Second Death, published back in March of this year. The opportunities were amazing and varied. I worked out a schedule and did a little marketing, but not as much as I probably should have. My second book, The Color of Darkness and Other Stories, wasn’t marketed at all. I mainly put it out there to have a body of work, as all the experts say you should have.

But since March, the opportunities for marketing have grown exponentially. I’ve been a member of the Indie Authors Group on Facebook for awhile, but I’ve also joined Indie Authors Unite. My head spins at the veritable plethora of places I can submit reviews, post my book information, blogs I can guest write, blog tours… Yikes! How do I sort through it all?

No, really, how do I?

I’m not sure this is a blog post about how to sort through it. I’m still trying to get my head around that. The main message I have to bring you today is, you’re not alone. The biggest strength of the web is people. Sure, there are trolls and generally ooky people out there, and an amazing number of demanding people who take advantage of the free help offered, but want MORE and MORE, driving the kind-hearted who offer that help to distraction.

The key to indie marketing, I think, is to know where to go for help. Don’t try to do it alone. Here’s the strategy I plan to use:

1. Figure out what product you’re selling. Your book is a product like any other. Do you think salespeople go out unprepared and don’t know what they’re selling? Write the best blurb you can, describing your book in a way that will entice people to buy it. (I’m assuming you already have a well-edited book with a professional-looking cover. If you don’t, make that your number one priority.) Figure out the tags and categories that place your book among the others out there.
2. Decide what you want to get out of marketing. Do you want huge sales? Do you want name recognition for your brand? Come up with the goals you have for this book. And set your goals high. A person’s reach should exceed her or his grasp, as the poet said, in my bad paraphrase.
3. Shop for marketing opportunities. Keeping your goals in mind, look for sites to be interviewed, blog tours to join–whatever opportunity fits in. Don’t take every opportunity that comes along; be selective for what fits your goals.
4. Keep up with what you’re doing. You don’t want to duplicate your efforts. If you’re like me, you have a limited amount of time to write and market, so make the best of those opportunities. Whether you use software to keep up with it or just a notebook, jot down somewhere what you’ve done and where and what’s worked and what hasn’t.

That’s all the advice I can summon at this moment, and my hot chocolate is gone. My head’s clearer on the subject and I feel less panicked about marketing. How about you? What are you doing to market your latest work? Share in the comments.

What do you know about ignorance?

“Don’t know much about history.
“Don’t know much biology.
“Don’t know much about a science book.
“Don’t know much about the French I took.”

Okay, I get this litany of how ignorant the singer is contrasts with the fact that s/he “loves you,” and how reciprocation of such would engender a wonderful world. But singable though it is, the conceit behind it has always annoyed me. What we don’t know is perfectly acceptable as long as we have a warm, fuzzy emotion to go along with that lack of knowledge.

I’m not really sure where or when the inherent anti-intellectualism in our society originated (sure, I could google it, but if you know, post a comment). I nearly entitled this post, “Ignorance is piss.” Why is ignorance a positive trait?

In this age of instant access (which I alluded to in the previous sentence, in fact), ignorance is inexcusable. Writers in particular need to combat ignorance. It’s what we do, right? Create knowledge and/or information where none existed before? Knit up diverse strands of data into a coherent whole? (Hello? Is this thing on?)

(I feel quite curmudgeonly as I type this. I must’ve pushed one of my own buttons.) I’m frequently annoyed by writers who protest, “Oh, I just don’t know how to use Twitter.” Why not? Find out! I can think of at least three e-books off the top of my head that explain in detail what Twitter is and how an author can use it in marketing her books. Can’t afford the e-books? Ask! Independent author sites abound, with lots of free help available. Saying “I don’t know” without proceeding to remedy the situation is just plain lazy.

The world is such an amazing place, full of intriguing and insane and annoying and wretched and intense and blissful and spiritual and stupid people. To my mind, writers fight ignorance with every paragraph, every sentence, every word, filling in the vast emptiness of ignorance with glittering webs of information, with new discoveries, with new ways of looking at existence. The creative writer enlivens dry facts, giving birth to brand new life. One of my greatest joys in reading is not necessarily the words on the page or the pixels on the Kindle, but the ideas for my own writing that spin off in little creative whorls. Usually these ideas have nothing to do with the words on the page. Something just clicks. Because the writer took the time to write.

Writers, don’t be lazy. Before you type the words “I don’t know” on Facebook or complain to someone about your ignorance, stop. Remedy that lack, fill in that lacuna, google it, and instead, share the knowledge with the rest of us.

You’re lifting up the entire human race when you do.

Drop a comment below and let me know what you think of the subject.

How to Survive the Slough of Despond

I’m not sure how many people these days understand the allusion in the title. It refers to a location in John Bunyan’s The Pilgrim’s Progress. I’ve never read it, honestly, although I’ve heard the phrase for years. Here’s a quotation from it, via from the Wikipedia entry for “Slough of Despond,” which literally means swamp of despair: “This miry Slough is such a place as cannot be mended…There ariseth in [the sinner’s] soul many fears, and doubts, and discouraging apprehensions, which all of them get together, and settle in this place, and this is the reason for the badness of this ground.” I left out the parts about sin; that belongs in a religious commentary, which this isn’t.  Substitute “writer’s” for “sinner’s,” and doesn’t this sound like the state of mind in which we often find ourselves? Fears? Check. Doubts? Check. Discouraging apprehensions? Oh yeah, in spades.

I wouldn’t go so far as to say I’m in a personal Slough of Despond at the moment. John Bunyan wouldn’t understand the actual phrase “burned out,” but he’d probably include the essence of that phrase in his nasty swamp. I’m not burned out on writing, surprisingly, but on marketing. No, the writing of the WIP (which stands for “work in progress,” for those of you who were afraid to ask) is going along swimmingly, thanks. Y’know, when I actually find time to write. At the moment, writing is easy. Marketing is hard.

Marketing is hard anyway to most writers. If you’re fearful of ridicule in reviews that say your heartfelt work is crap, how are you able to tell everybody in the world they should read it because it’s great? If you doubt your ability to write because no one has bought it or even downloaded it for free, how can you summon the catchy and intriguing prose that will compel readers to catapult you to the Amazon top 100? As has been pointed out elsewhere (I’m not finding the actual quote, but trust me on this), writers of fiction are not generally used to writing marketing copy, especially for themselves.

It’s especially discouraging when you aren’t seeing great sales. That’s where I am these days. My sales are pretty pitiful (like a couple of sales a week or less), despite a regimen of marketing and participating and trying to get my name out there. I’ve put out a collection of stories, but I’ve been too burned out to really promote it much. The next book, The Source of Lightning, is in editing, and I’m hoping it will find more readers. But in the indie marketing game, “hoping” just doesn’t cut it.

So what do you do? You’re not going to like the answer. Everybody tells you there’s no magic bullet. Everybody’s right. If you read the authors of “how to” e-books I reviewed in my last post, they’ll tell you it’s hard work. And luck, as J.A. Konrath always reminds us. You keep at it, that’s what you do. Hire it done, if you have the money to spare. Check out people like Duolit. Read blogs like Indie Author Community for inspiration. Join groups like Indie Author Group to learn and rejuvenate. Above all, keep at it.

Really, that slough can’t stretch on forever. You’ll get to the end of it eventually. Or you’ll decide it’s too hard and give up. Take courage in the fact that you’re an indie author, and YOU are in charge of your destiny. Reach out for help. Keep on keepin’ on. If you don’t illuminate the path, luck won’t find you.

Comment and let me know how you survive the Slough of Despond.

3 Useful Books on e-Publishing

Maybe it’s because I’m involved in e-publishing, but every news item I see lately is about how great independent publishing is, or how horrible it is, or a debate on the topic. Most of that debate is preaching to the choir. Still, as part of that choir, I pay attention. I’m always interested in learning new tips. What is writing about, anyway, if not continuous improvement and [self] exploration?

Along the way in my exploration, I’ve picked up three e-books that each take a different tack on the subject of self-publishing. The first is John Locke’s How I Sold 1 Million eBooks in 5 Months! With a title like that, who can resist? I’ve read criticism on Facebook’s Indie Author Group that he’s not sincere and such. I don’t really care; I’m not adopting him, I’m reading his book. His background is business. His approach to e-publishing is analytical and, well, businesslike. It’s an interesting read with useful advice. The main takeaway for me is the idea of knowing who your audience is and marketing to that audience. He says that if you’re doing it right, you’ll get negative reviews from those readers who are not your target audience, but they should be balanced by positive reviews from those who are your die-hard fans. I think part of my problem with Second Death is I’m not quite sure who the audience for it is. If I care about selling more copies of it, I need to figure that out. He also emphasizes caring about your fans and cultivating them by being accessible.

The next e-book on self-publishing is less of a how-to-publish guide and more how-to-market. I discovered Jon F. Merz several years back when I started on Twitter. I won a contest of his after buying one of his e-books (before Kindle). He seems like a genuinely nice guy who cares about his readers. His book is How To Really Sell EBooks: Practical Steps to Increasing Your EBook Sales. I haven’t had time to implement his suggestions yet, but the book is, as the subtitle says, above all practical. The big discovery for me was TweetAdder, a program he gives step by step instructions on how to use to increase your sales. Marketing is the key to success in self-publishing (or traditional publishing, for that matter). And Jon F. Merz knows marketing.

The third book is one I just bought the other day and started last night. Michael R. Hicks is a seasoned tweeter whom I’ve followed with interest for several months. His self-help title is The Path To Self-Publishing Success: How I Left My Day Job Behind for a Full-Time Writing Career. Now how could I resist that? It’s my dream! In what I’ve read so far, Michael emphasizes the journey. Self-improvement is key to success, he says, and recommends several books that helped him. Having been on a journey of self-rediscovery myself, this advice is right up my alley. The tone of the book is friendly and casual, but the editing is good so far (in fact is in all these choices). I look forward to reading more.

Three books, three different approaches to e-publishing. Great, now it’s completely MY fault if I don’t sell more books.

[Speaking of selling more books, pick up The Color of Darkness and Other Stories, hot off the computer!]